Why should I write a blogpost about a singer who just released her first single and who’s just started climbing the hitparades while we speak (#3 in single top 100 The Netherlands as we speak)? Because there is a lot of discussion going on online if Lana Del Rey (sometimes also written as Del Ray) is for real or rather an example of just another marketing product. Just to get the facts straight. Lana Del Rey did release already an album as Lizzy Grant. The rather poppy record didn’t do anything and is nowadays hard to find. Some time ago the collage-like video’s popped up online to a song that already was heavily shared online by music freaks: video games. I myself am an avid follower of some music blogs and I have to admit, the first time I heard the song I thought: wow.
Lana Del Rey differs with Lizzy Grant both in style and in, ehm, lips. Don’t laugh, but you can find a whole lot of discussions about the lips of the singer who have grown quite a lot since she changed her nom de plume. Lana has been giving some gigs lately and it seems her band consists of well routined studio musicians. The hipsters who thought she was cool before, now started to have doubts. Is Lana Del Rey some marketing fancy, being recuped by the evil music industry?
Authenticity is a social construct
Discussions about authenticity and music are always fascinating, in my opinion. Richard Peterson was the first to examine this relationship to the fullest. For him it was very clear: authenticity is a social construct. He researched in depth the concept of authenticity related to country music. The audience expected that country stars ‘acted’ as cowboys even if they never had seen a farm from nearby. This faking of a background was ironically needed to be perceived as authentic.
Barker and Taylor describe in their fine book ‘Faking it’ how the urge for authenticity on the one hand saved a musical genre as the blues as British musicians and music lovers rediscovered the then dying style. But ironically this same urge for real meant the death of the genre. Blues musicians who didn’t fit the sound of the in the eyes of the British ‘connaisseurs’ by using e.g. jazz-influences were merciless ignored. The more simple, rough blues of for instance a John Lee Hooker was perceived as the true blues.
This case of Lana Del Rey resembles a lot the story of Marie Digby. Mary Digby recorded homemade versions of popular songs on Youtube. They gained a lot attention, she still has over 230,000 subscribers and her channel has been viewed six million times, her videos having amassed over 85 million views, the most popular being a cover of Umbrella by Rihanna, which has gained over 15 million views. This allegedly led to a major record deal with Hollywood Records, a part of the Walt Disney Company. Her version of Umbrella was her biggest online hit, subsequently used in an episode of the MTV reality series The Hills.
It seemed to be a beautiful fairy tale, but a newspaper revealed this to be untrue. On six September 2007 two journalists from the Wall Street Journal published an article stating that the girl already had a contract 18 months prior to the moment the movies popped up. They also noted that the company gave her the recording tools. In this case YouTube was used to ‘create authenticity’, much as Peterson described it in how artists had to fabricate realness in the Country scene.
Lily Allen & The Sex Pistols
If you think this sounds just as how Lily Allen or Kate Nash were discovered, you’re probably right. Why should we think bad about Lana Del Rey while we don’t have a problem with Lilly Allen, The XX or The Noisettes who in their way were also a product. They all went to the same school were they learned to be pop. By the way. My favorite composed boyband is The Sex Pistols. Brilliant marketing guy, that son of a gun Malcolm McLaren.
The question remains who actually cares? The audience doesn’t. That audience rather bought Billy Joel (for musical purists who very fast became a fake after an authentic start) than Neil Young (who stayed an authentic ‘searcher’). For me: beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, authenticity does too. The criteria one uses to perceive something or someone as authentic differs based on the context and the relations.